Rhubarb is one of the first local crops to appear at the Farmers Market or in my CSA box. I always get excited when I see it, and I love to make a good rhubarb crumble with the first of the season. It’s the first thing I’ll make, when I bring home that precious first bunch of the red rhubarb stalks.
What’s a crumble, you may ask? I suppose the quickest answer is that it’s a crisp with a British accent: a baked dish of fresh fruit with a streusel-like topping. Some food writers hold that a crisp topping contains oats or nuts, while a crumble topping does not, but that may be an artificial difference: the BBC’s recipe for rhubarb crumble, for instance, includes chopped walnuts.
Kim Severson of the NY Times wrote a deep-dive sort of article on fruit desserts (sonkers, grunts, slumps and crumbles) in which she concludes that crumbles and crisps are so similar they are nearly indistinguishable. Basically, a sweetened topping is crumbled over fruit and baked until crunchy.
And that’s just what I do. I usually prefer my crumble without nuts, although I know that some folks love ’em. Most often I’ll mix the butter into flour with my fingers, but if I have someone doing dishes for me, or I have a need to keep my fingers clean and dry, I’ll use the food processor.
It is a very simple thing: mix rhubarb with sugar and seasonings, turn it into a baking dish. Now make a crumbly topping with flour, salt, butter, and sugar, and strew it over the fruit. Bake it until browned and bubbly, and you have one of the glories of early spring: rhubarb crumble.
- 1 lb rhubarb cut into 1-inch pieces
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp ground cardamom
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ cup unsalted butter (half stick, or 2 ounces) cut into cubes
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup chopped pecans (optional)
- Preheat oven to 375˚F.
- In a medium sized bowl, mix together all the filling ingredients (rhubarb, sugar, flour, vanilla, cardamom). Turn the mixture out into a 2-quart baking dish.
- Make the topping: put flour and salt in a bowl, add the butter cubes, and work the butter in with your fingers until the mixture is soft and crumbly. Add the brown sugar and nuts, if you're using them, and mix lightly with your hands.
- Alternatively, pulse the flour, salt, and butter in a food processor until the pieces of butter are the size of peas, then mix in the brown sugar and nuts.
- Scatter the topping over the rhubarb mixture, covering it in an even layer.
- Bake at 375˚ for 40 minutes or so, until the filling is bubbly and the topping is lightly browned.
- Let cool for at least 30 minutes before serving